But, a change to that rule will now allow for some breathing room. Four games, to be exact.
A new policy adopted this week by the NCAA will allow student-athletes playing football at the Football Bowl Subdivision and Football Championship Subdivision levels to play in four games in a season without using a season of competition.
It will begin this fall, with the 2018 season, wiping away the need for schools to petition the NCAA for a medical redshirt if a player had already played in a game. Previously, that rule allowed players to obtain a medical redshirt if they played in four games or less than 30 percent of their games that season.
Currently, Division I student-athletes have five years to play four seasons. The NCAA also adopted a new policy this week that prevents schools from telling student-athletes where they can and can't transfer to.
"The change promotes not only fairness for college athletes, but also their health and well-being," said Miami (Florida) athletic director Blake James, who doubles as the chair of the Division I council.
"Redshirt football student-athletes are more likely to remain engaged with the team, and starters will be less likely to feel pressured to play through the injuries. Coaches will appreciate the additional flexibility and ability to give younger players an opportunity to participate in limited competition."
More often than not, schools will redshirt freshman football players, giving them the opportunity to acclimate to the college way of life and playbook. Under the new rule, that could continue but coaches will have the opportunity to play freshmen in up to four games during their first year on campus.
To help prevent potential loopholes, the NCAA says mid-year enrollees who play in bowl games before or during their first term at a school will not be eligible.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh brought this subject up in December, when asked whether wide receiver Tarik Black would play in the Outback Bowl.
Black played in the first four games of the season in 2017 before suffering a broken foot, an injury that kept him sidelined the rest of the way. If he played in one more game, he would not have been eligible for a medical redshirt.
"I really think that is a good dialogue to be having right now," Harbaugh said. "Freshman players who have redshirted up to this point could still play in a bowl game and still be a redshirted player and have their five-year clock.
"Even if some senior players decide it's not in their best interest to play in a bowl game, what a wonderful thing it would be to play some of the freshman in that bowl game and not lose their redshirt year."
Now, coaches will be able to.
NEW TRANSFER RULES
College coaches will no longer be able to block players from transferring to specific schools due to a new NCAA rule.
The Division I Council this week adopted a proposal to create a "notification-of-transfer" model, the NCAA announced Wednesday afternoon. Athletes can inform their school of their intent to transfer and the school is then required to enter their name in a national transfer database within two business days. As soon as the athlete's name is in the database, other coaches are then free to contact them.
The new rule goes into effect Oct. 15.
"The membership showed today that it supports this significant change in transfer rules," Justin Sell, chair of the Division I Transfer Working Group and South Dakota State athletic director, said in press release from the NCAA. "I'm proud of the effort the Transfer Working Group put forth to make this happen for student-athletes, coaches and schools."
Despite the NCAA's new transfer model, conferences can still have rules more restrictive than at the national level. The Big Ten, for example, has an intra-conference transfer rule that forces athletes who transfer from one conference school to another to sit out a year in all sports. However, individuals can apply for a waiver to compete immediately.
Under the old transfer rules, athletes had to receive permission from their current school to contact other coaches while pursuing a transfer. And, coaches could limit their potential destinations.
In the spring of 2016, Michigan basketball coach John Beilein initially put transfer restrictions on Spike Albrecht and Ricky Doyle. Beilein later removed those restrictions as Albrecht played at Purdue as a graduate transfer while Doyle moved on to Florida Gulf Coast and has one season of eligibility remaining.